random blog post

It’s hold your hands up time

I never did statistics at school. Those of us doing science A-levels were made to study ‘maths with mechanics’; if you want to know how a parallelogram of forces works, or how to calculate angular momentum, I’m your man, but ask about standard deviation and margin of error and I’ll look shifty and start talking about the weather as I try to Google the answer.

But I’m numerate enough to know when figures just don’t smell right and so it is with this table doing the rounds on Twitter. It’s been posted by Andrew Hawkins, the Chairman of one of the polling companies ComRes. It tries to show how all the polling firms were within the appropriate margin of error (+/- 3 percentage points) for their final polls when you take an average of how much they were out for each party. (more…)


In Praise of WordPress

imgresI built yet another website last week (I’m a one man content farm).

For a couple of years I’ve had a blog about London history on Google’s ‘Blogger’ platform, but because Blogger is a bit basic (and, to be honest, a bit crap), I bought a domain, transferred all the content from the old site to the new one, put in 301 redirects so I don’t lose any search visibility, upgraded the meta text for better SEO, installed analytics tracking code, dropped in a line of code to verify the site with an affiliate network, added social sharing buttons, and linked my twitter account to automatically promote posts. Oh, and I tried out three or four different site designs until I found one I liked.

The fact that I could do all of this with coding knowledge that stopped with MS-DOS (ask your parents) is all down to WordPress. At its most basic you can have a website up and running in a couple of minutes using the tools at http://wordpress.com. Decide on a name, decide on how you want the site to look, a couple of clicks and you can start a blog.


Is there a MyWaitrose effect?

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 20.58.45Good news! trumpets an email from Waitrose. From tomorrow the minimum spend needed to get a free broadsheet paper falls back to £5.00 between Monday and Friday; at the end of April they’d increased this to £10 (this price point stays for Saturday and Sunday papers).

If you don’t know Waitrose’s promotion it’s quite a simple deal. If you’re a MyWaitrose card holder then as long as you have £5.00 of groceries in your basket (believe me, not at all hard at Waitrose) you can add one of the papers in the offer for nothing (they ring it through the till and then deduct the amount off the total bill).

I’m fascinated by this promotion and whether it might be connected to a recent slowdown in the sales fall for some newspapers. In April the Guardian was down just 0.3% on its sales in April 2013, The Telegraph down 2.5%, The Times 2.2% and the Mail 5.5% (the Independent was down a whopping 14.4%). Compared to the huge falls of the past few years these almost seem like good news for the print press. (more…)

Where I Give Myself a New Job

Pantone_SkinTone_Guide_gallery copyLast month I announced the launch of subs.guru to a jubilant world (I believe that the event is still being celebrated in some of the remoter parts of Tajikistan. And Middlesbrough.).

At the risk of spoiling you still further, I’m pleased to tell you about venture number two, TheBrownConsultancy – of which I’ve declared myself the managing director (I might promote myself to CEO if I do a good enough job over the next six months).

Whereas subs.guru is aimed at publishing companies and those where subscriptions is the major part of their business model, The Brown Consultancy is pitched towards businesses that want some support on either their digital marketing strategy, their ecommerce activity or managing specific campaigns. I want to be able to share the experience I’ve gained from two quite active ecommerce businesses to help companies that are looking to improve their ROI and lower their CPA, whether they’re using search, affiliate networks, email marketing or other digital channels to gain orders.

I’ve played around with my old blog site a bit to build this web site using WordPress, so you can find out a bit more about me and the services on offer using the menu above.

Where I try to build a website

Screen Shot 2014-03-25 at 12.48.02The first of two new things of mine is about to go in front of an unprepared world as I go live with www.subs.guru

This is basically a venture to chase up more freelance work in subscription marketing. (If anyone asks I’m claiming that the domain name is ironic.) Whether you want analysis of your strategy or help on specific campaigns, drop me a line and we can talk through what you’re trying to achieve. More details are on the website (oh, you wanted to be reminded of the address? No problem, it’s www.subs.guru.)

I built the pages using a template-driven site builder on 123-Reg. On the plus side it was fairly quick to do – what you see took around 4-5 hours in total – but I wouldn’t recommend it for anything substantial. There are lots of counter-intuitive functions, not many decent templates, and a lack of documentation and help (at one point the site was ready, but moving an image threw everything out – I mean everything. There was no way of reversing the move.) Venture number 2, which will be sprung in the next couple of weeks, is likely to have its site built in WordPress (like this blog, but on its own domain), which I suspect will take considerably longer, but produce better results.

But at least the courses in Analytics that I’ve been doing have been worthwhile. Tracking code is embedded and working, filters are set up – now all I need is some traffic…

The £5 Social Media Experiment

Come June I’ll be once again swinging back into the saddle to cycle 100km around London during the night.

And once again I’ll be trying to get sponsorship on behalf of a couple of charities that support patients and research in brain tumours and cancer in memory of my best friend Jeff.

This time though all I’m asking for is a donation of £5. (You can donate here)

Last year many people were very generous and over £1100 was raised, but this year all I want from you is £5 – a fiver, five quid. The price of two cups of milky coffee, or a pint and half of bitter, or a return ticket to East Finchley (I’ve been to East Finchley – I’m doing you a favour by taking your tube fare).

The idea is to get more people to sponsor and to pass the message on. I’d like to get sponsorships from friends of friends of friends and see how far out the ripples stretch.

Of course this might all fall flat on its face and only a puny amount gets raised – but I’d like to see whether this spreads beyond my immediate circle.

So put down your five quid (I’m happy to take cash, so if you bump into me give me your £5 and I’ll pay it in online myself). I’ve paid all the costs of doing the ride so every penny donated goes to the charities.

And tweet, Facebook, email and share this link as far and as wide as you can – and let’s see what happens.

Here’s the link to the donation page – think of it as the new home for that £5 note in your pocket.

Where I put my foot right in it.

Bugger, I’ve done something stupid. Again.

This particular dumbness sees me in a bit of a Twitstorm. Obviously my normal reaction would be to hide under the desk until it goes away, but I thought it might be an interesting case study, so at the risk of throwing petrol on the flames…

Last week I happened to check our Twitter account. I’m not primarily responsible for our social media, but I tweet on the account occasionally and I take an interest in what happens. We get the odd customer service query, one or two a month, so if I see them first I kick them across to the CS team to sort out.

Anyway, last week a tweet popped up: “Don’t buy a magazine subscription through @iSubscribeUK. You won’t receive it!” It seemed to me a rather sweeping attack on our business by someone who identified himself as the email marketing manager for a specific company.

We’re a small team and I care about what we do and how we do it. The tweet seemed to need a response.

And the first response was to find out what the problem was and to resolve it. Which we did; tweets, emails and phone calls went back and forth, and the problem was sorted out. It shouldn’t have happened in the first place, but with 100,000+ orders a year and over 600 individual publishers to deal with, sometimes things don’t go as they should.

The second response was a great deal of irritation. Why should someone make what (I felt) was an unwarranted condemnation of our entire business? So I sent an email to the MD of the company that appeared in the tweeter’s bio:

We’re trying to sort out [name] problem, but I do feel it is rather bad form for someone who is identifying themselves as being from your company to be posting such a sweeping generalisation about our company on a public forum like Twitter: https://twitter.com/dangrech/status/275560529618153472

Was it the right thing to do? Almost certainly not. Should I have done it? Of course not. Would I do it again? I doubt it, but in nearly 30 years of working I’ve done some pretty dumb things and will almost certainly do some equally dumb things in the future. Mea culpa, most definitely. (“My bad” for you youngsters.)

But there is also, I would contend, responsibility on those of us who tweet. One can’t just say whatever one wants without being aware that this can have consequences; one’s quick jibe can have real impact on real people. And if you say you’re from a particular company, then your actions reflect on that company; if someone in my team abused someone else in public I would call them out about it.

In just the same way, of course, as my actions detailed above reflect on the business. I’ve always been a fan of irony.

So again, mea culpa.

I’ll leave our customer service responses to cooler heads than mine in future. In the mean time, I need to find my tin hat and get back under the desk.

On training

Bloody weather.

I hate cycling in the rain, so anything more than a light drizzle keeps the bike stowed away.

Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a problem. I’d become slightly less fit and slightly more fat as the bad weather kept me on public transport, but other than having to let my belt out a notch there wouldn’t be any real consequences.

However, as I’m currently trying to get fit enough to cycle 100km around London on the 9th June (what, you didn’t know? I thought I’d mentioned it.) the time out from riding the bike means that my training schedule is starting to look a little ropy. With five weeks to go I should be cycling 100km a week and doing a long ride of around 50km – last week I did around 40km in total.

There was already the slight problem that as iSubscribe is only a couple of miles from house my regular commuting cycle has had to be augmented by elaborate detours on the way home. These include the ‘Roehampton diversion‘ and the ‘Richmond Park extension‘, but unless it’s dry I’m not going to do these regularly.

So I’m hoping for at least a little dry weather this weekend so I can get out for a couple of hours and do 40-50km. Otherwise, come 9 June I’ll be giving up half way and trying to get a lift home.

If you want to give money to Brain Tumour UK (the people I’m doing this cycle ride for) go to my VirginMoneyGiving page.

Something important

On June 10th I’ll be attempting to cycle 100km (that’s around 62 miles in old money) around London in support of Brain Tumour UK. You can give money here.

Partly of course, this is a middle-aged man’s attempt to pretend that the years are having no effect on me (I turn 50 the following month), but the main reason for doing this is to raise lots of money to help fight the thing that killed my best friend.

Jeff Dodds was also 50 when he died last summer. In Spring 2010 he was having trouble with his sight and the doctors were unsure of the cause, but when he had a seizure in July of that year and was given an MRI, a tumour was discovered. This turned out to be a grade IV glioblastoma, the most aggressive form of brain tumour that you can get. (Jeff was never one to do things by halves.)

He went through brain surgery to have the thing cut out, then radiotherapy and chemotherapy and seemed to be doing well, but the damn thing came back (as they almost always do). More surgery wasn’t an option this time; he’d had a lifetime’s dose of radiation the previous winter so the radiotherapy was out; chemo was palliative only. He died on July 5th.

You can make your donation here.


I’ll be back

I seem to have been neglecting this blog for a while, but I’ve been reading a lot of stuff recently on conversions and UX, so hope to be able to synthesise that into a new post shortly.

In the mean time I’ve been posting on my other blog, with entries on the Tower Hill Memorial, a wonderful place just over the road from the Tower of London that commemorates members of the merchant navy killed in the World Wars, the new Clapham swimming pool, and the ‘gold ring scam’ which seems to have crossed the Channel from Paris. I’m also working on a piece on the Clapham Sect for you William Wilberforce junkies out there.